Nikina Lazenby made a tearful plea yesterday for the safe return of her 1-year-old son, Tremayne Peak, who police said vanished Monday night with a friend of Lazenby's - whose own baby had been placed in foster care.
"It's a hard thing when you don't know where your child is," Lazenby said, as tears rolled down her cheeks. "My son is only 1 year old, he's defenseless, he can't walk, he can't do anything. I just want my son back."
Late last night, she got her wish. Police said that Tremayne had been found, apparently unharmed, in Germantown, Md., following a bizarre, convoluted journey.
The boy's alleged kidnapper, Vanessa Perez, was spotted by authorities in Maryland but eluded capture, said Lt. John Walker of Southwest Detectives.
The dramatic tale began at 8 p.m. Monday, when Perez picked up Tremayne from Lazenby's home on 41st Street near Girard Avenue in West Philadelphia, said Lt. John Walker of Southwest Detectives.
About 9 p.m. Lazenby called Perez and asked when she would be back with her baby. Perez said that she was close by and would arrive shortly, Walker said. Perez never showed, and a frightened Lazenby called police.
Walker said Perez took Tremayne to a house in Mount Airy, where she told a former lover that the boy was actually their offspring, said Walker.
Perez' former beau, whose name was not released, bought the ruse and suggested that she and Tremayne drive with him down to his new home in Maryland, Walker said.
Before the newly formed family left for Maryland, they posed for a photograph was taken by the sister of Perez' former lover.
That photo proved to be Perez' undoing. When Tremayne's picture was televised on the news yesterday, the woman recognized him and called police.
Walker said police managed to contact the man who was with Perez and Tremayne. He provided his address, and a Rockville, Md., FBI agent was sent to the house.
When Perez spotted the agent, she handed Tremayne to her male companion and fled in a black pickup truck, Walker said.
The boy was taken to an area hospital for observation. It was unclear when he would be allowed to return to Philadelphia.
Walker said the FBI was expected to issue an arrest warrant for Perez on kidnapping charges. "She's now a fugitive, and she will be processed by the U.S. Attorney's Office," he added.
Investigators learned that Perez has a 1-year-old son who was placed in foster care because she was no longer able to care for him, Walker said.
"We think she may be suffering from some anxiety from losing her child to a foster home and that she's maybe trying to replace her child with Tremayne," Walker said.